It is with great sadness that I have to bear the news that the Dewey Decimal System is dead.
For many a year now it has guided, stored and helped information. Many a book has been stamped, with it’s loving embrace tickling numbers down its spine.
But now, in schools, it seems the Dewey system is beginning to become redundant. It’s lost its gloss and its youthful promise of eternal storage and ease of use have withered away into disillusionment, complexity and anonymity.
Now this may in part be a small jest but it is a jest based in reality and a reality that I feel school librarians need to be aware of and consider.
The ultimate role of a library (concerning information) is to store facts and provide people (it users) access to the information in the easiest way possible.
A library needs to know its customers, be aware of their requirements and provide information to them how they want it.
In a public library this is via the Dewey system. It works because anyone can go into a public library searching for information. The ordering system leads the customer, otherwise if you tried catering for just one sub section of customers, organising for them the easiest way for those individuals to find information then you alienate all your other users.
But how about in a school where the clientele is so specific, similar and used to other ordering systems. Should the customer in these situations not lead the ordering systems?
In a school, students are focused on a very different ordering system. What year they are in, what term it is and what subject they are currently studying. A variation in any of these results in a different outcome. A year 8 student in the summer term in history will study something different to a year 9 student in the spring term in maths.
This is how they are conditioned to think, act and behave with this knowledge of ordering at the forefront of their minds. Keep this in your mind.
Now it is common knowledge that the use of non fiction in school libraries has dramatically declined over the boom of the internet, smart phones, iPads etc etc with information so easily accessible at the touch of a button. Ok it might not be the right information but does the student care if it only takes then seconds to find it?
Why would a student want to try and work out how the Dewey system works before they can find the book they want, before they can get the information.
Some would argue that it’s because the Dewey Decimal System is a transferable skill, that universities use it and that it is important in case a young person ever needs to use the public library. This is in fact a fallacy. The Dewey Decimal System is not a transferable skill it is just one example of an ordering system, one that not all libraries use anyway.
No, what the transferable skill is, is the ability to walk into a room, to know that an ordering system is in place, to know how to find out what that system is and then to be able to successfully find what you are looking for within the system. Those are the transferable skills and the skills, importantly, that we need to be teaching. Young people are going to come up against many ordering systems in their life, some on a day to day basis. The supermarket, the music shop, the book store, the App Store etc etc. understanding Dewey gives you no help here whatsoever but having the skills to decipher when an ordering system is being used does.
So if Dewey isn’t a transferable skill and students want to access information in an easy way why do we insist on sticking with Dewey? Sticking with it to the point that we are arrogantly stating to our users ‘we know better and if you can’t use Dewey you can’t borrow books.’ Well, ‘fine’ our kids are saying ‘I was going to use the internet anyway.’
But how about, instead, we take all we know about how we have conditioned our students and how we have ordered their lives and put this into a system that makes information as easily accessible to them as possible.
Well, that, is exactly what we’ve done…